The next planned work in the Shine Cycle after Third Empire is The Stone of Power. It marks the beginning of the third arc of the “main line” of the series, the history of the world of the Shine Cycle. Today’s post is a brief introduction to this planned book.
Like the Shine Cycle as a whole, the idea for The Stone of Power “started small” but quickly grew in scope and complexity, largely as I realized how vast the distances my worldbuilding had previously established are. It’s not quite as “big” as The Longest War, which in the end I decided to “briefly introduce” in three posts over three months, but I’m going to have to be at least somewhat elliptical to keep it from turning into a series of its own.
In addition to the scope problem presented by the distances to travel, which I mentioned a moment ago, another factor affecting the scope and difficulty of the concept is the fact that the first events that really ought to be part of this story take place over a decade before the “main action,” and for the most part involve entirely different characters.
But before I get to that, there’s also a bit of background that has to be understood. (This should, in fact, be built up a little in previous volumes, but it wasn’t worth mentioning in a précis.) It’s about “seeing-stones,” which are a common bit of metaphysical technology. A seeing-stone originally was merely a device that helped a mage to see events and places at a distance more easily than without it. But in the half-century and more before The Stone of Power, this basic item was improved: to temporarily “pair” with another stone so the two mages can show each other messages; to additionally send sound, making them in effect the equivalent of a “video telephone”; and to allow non-mages to use them for this communications function. There are even some experiments testing their use in computers, to make instantaneous “dial-up” networking and eventually to remove the requirement that the parts of a single computer unit be physically connected, though all that’s really more for the future. But as these additional features have become available, seeing-stones have become more and more common in households across the Empire and beyond.
There is one theoretical flaw in the security of a seeing-stone: An egregiously powerful mage with an overbearing will could create a “master” seeing-stone that could force a connection on lesser stones and project its user’s will through them. But since no “true mage” could create such a thing, as a “true mage” is granted the limited use of God’s power provided and to the extent that he or she maintains a “Christian walk” of holiness and godliness, and under ordinary circumstances no “false mage,” drawing power from other sources, could have enough power to accomplish this.
Now, to the “prefatory action.” (However I’ll make it fit into the book.) There is “yet another border war.” But for the first time since The Dragon Wars or The Dragon Returns, Tashere, the Ayna (sort of like a fallen angel, but not quite …) absolute ruler of the Dragon Empire, takes the field himself rather than relying on soldiers dominated and compelled, as all in that country are, by his will. And so he carries the day, until the king of the Sunshine Kingdom—a Vayna, “living at the Master’s pleasure” and so not able to be permanently killed—arrives to oppose him. Eventually Tashere overreaches his limitations and mortally wounds his foe, but the counter blow expels him from the universe into something very much like the Abyss.
As Tashere falls, and during the resulting earthquake on his lands, he passes his power and authority to his mortal protégé Gondolor. Knowing that this power will not last, Gondolor uses it to craft “artifacts of domination,” including a Master Seeing-Stone, for which the book is named. To supplement his power in the creation of these objects, and (like so many villains, fictional and—to these characters, who can travel from universe to universe and read history books from any of thousands of worlds—otherwise) to improve their durability, he forges them using the heat and power of a volcano that came to the surface during the earthquake, which then goes dormant for two decades.
There is some warning in the Shine and Wild Empire, so overnight and just in time seeing-stones are covered up everywhere to prevent their use. But with the objects in hand Gondolor is simply too powerful for his neighbors to be safe, so in the absence of the King the Queen—leaving a year-old, or so, daughter at home, as well as their other children—leads a small force to challenge Gondolor and take the Stone away. After a fierce battle, Gondolor is laid low, the Stone has been captured, and a few of the other objects—chiefly “unbeatable weapons”—are destroyed, but the Queen has fallen. And while she is also a Vayna, this has been her last Task, and she is called “home to the Halls” as a “good and faithful servant.”
The Stone has been captured, but while the volcano is dormant—and with no Vayna available, and no human mage sufficiently powerful, to coax it back awake for a day—it cannot be destroyed. So rather than risking Gondolor unexpectedly retaking it and having the world and more at his mercy, the leaders of the Empire decide to ask a team of mages to move the two continents into a “bubble universe” for the duration, after everyone in the Empire and its allies who doesn’t want to volunteer to stay has been evacuated. (Which can take months or even a couple of years, but they’ve got time.) Members of that council and other prominent mages and leaders become caretakers of various areas of the two continents to keep watch, and the Stone is hidden as best they can make it. And there the story ends for a decade and more, as Gondolor recovers his strength and the watchers make their own preparations.
When it resumes, we meet our main protagonist: Alex Royal, the young woman who was the infant princess at the time of the prefatory action, now beginning to come of age, now essentially a minor noblewoman impatient with sitting, preparing, and waiting. (I intend to post a character profile of her in a couple of weeks.) While there has been increasing pressure on the enclaves from growing wilderness and from armed bands presumably sent by Gondolor or his commanders, the lands are still generally quite safe, so she gathers a small group of like-minded young people and sets out—first to visit other similar citadels, whose leaders she knows only from her guardian’s stories, but some of whose youths she has been “pen-friends” with, and eventually aiming to see the country of her birth. In various places more companions join the group.
When Alex and her companions arrive in Capitol, the capital of the Sunshine Kingdom, word arrives that the volcano in the Dragon Empire has begun activity once more. A council is hastily convened, with nearby leaders that can coming in person and those too far away sending their thoughts in writing. Alex Royal is given a seat at the council table partly as an observer on behalf of her guardians far to the west, and partly because no one is willing to gainsay a child of her parents.
The decision of the council is to send a small group to retrieve the Stone from its hiding place and take it to the volcano to destroy it, and for the various enclaves to raise what armies they can to divert Gondolor’s attention. And, after much discussion, Alex is selected to carry the Stone: she is the one Vayna in the area, in the first flowering of her powers, and even the daughter of the woman whose steadfast stand made it possible to take the Stone away from its creator in the first place.
The rest of the plot is fairly straightforward in concept and summary, if anything but simple in the execution that will be required: while most of her companions from the first half of the journey return to their homes to raise armies to draw the enemy’s eye, then defend against the attacks that will fall, she and a few of her companions visit the cave where the Stone is hidden, retrieve it, and journey back across the two continents and deep into the Dragon Empire to destroy it.
At the end, once the Stone is destroyed and Gondolor is no longer the extreme threat he had been with it in hand, all is restored—the two continents are reunited with the rest of the universe, the land bridge between them is replaced, the evacuees return. The King (who has a minor role in the main plot under another name) takes up his throne again. All is well—except for a few lesser conflicts here and there, which will be the subjects of the few subsequent planned books.
The central major characters are Alex and her Companions. The only one that I have done any real development on is Rose, the daughter of Scarlet—and I don’t even know whether I want her to accompany Alex on the mission or join her mother in raising the Elven Woods. But they will certainly be drawn from all the major races (see posts linked from here) of the world.
When the ideas behind this story first began coming to me, years ago, I know I had some important theme that it was going to convey. It’s probably just as well that I don’t remember them. But something about liberation will almost certainly come through, since this is after all the book in which the Danani are freed from Tashere’s domination.